Tough times for the Chinese ultra-fast fashion giant Shein – first it was plagued by accusations of plagiarism, then a British documentary found that workers in some Shein factories in China are paid the equivalent of just three cents per garment and have to work 18-hour shifts. Now it’s about the clothes themselves – Greenpeace Germany tested some of them and found that there are often dangerous chemicals in the clothes sold by Shein.
To prove this, Greenpeace Germany purchased 47 garments from the Shein platform, which were examined in an independent laboratory for contamination analysis. It found phthalate levels in excess of 100,000 milligrams per kilogram in five boots and shoes respectively; the limit for the European Chemicals Regulation (REACH) is 1000 milligrams per kilogram. The highest phthalate value was measured in black snow boots, and at 685,000 milligrams per kilogram, it is even 685 times the legal limit.
A third of the tested articles are problematic
Overall, the product tests found hazardous chemicals that exceeded REACH limits in 7 of the tested items, which is 15 percent; Hazardous chemicals were found “at levels of concern” in a total of 32 percent or 15 products. Shein claims to have since removed these products and launched an investigation (see statement below).
Since Shein sells directly online via its app and social media, many transactions bypass the authorities. Greenpeace is therefore calling for better controls and more far-reaching guidelines: “The EU must enforce its laws to protect the environment and consumers also for online stores and significantly tighten REACH”, demands Viola Wohlgemuth, resource protection expert at Greenpeace, in a press release.
“Chemicals that are potentially carcinogenic when carried in Germany or elsewhere are even more dangerous for the workers in Shein’s factories in China. Hazardous chemicals must be banned by law from all textile production, adds Wohlgemuth.
Problem ultra fast fashion
The problem goes back to the ultra-fast fashion model with which Shein operates: Every day, the online store offers up to 6,000 new designs online. By comparison: competitor H&M managed only around 1.4 percent of its volume in the US during a comparable period of four months and Shein produces about three times as fast as fast fashion pioneer Zara – namely within three to seven days.
“This new ultra-fast fashion business model takes over-consumption and waste of resources to the extreme. This creates an enormous amount of environmentally harmful textile waste in the global south, in addition to environmental damage in the producer countries, says Greenpeace.
“Fast fashion is already completely incompatible with a climate-friendly future; the new trend of ultra-fast fashion fuels climate crisis and natural destruction so aggressively that it must be stopped immediately by law, concludes Wohlgemuth.
When asked by FashionUnited about the allegations, Shein responded with a (rather general) statement: “Shein takes product safety very seriously. Our suppliers are required to comply with the controls and standards we have in place, including chemical checklists and standards adapted to Europe’s REACH, as well as CPSIA, CPSA and CA65 from, among others, the USA.”
“We work closely with international third-party testing agencies such as Intertek, SGS, BV and TUV, to regularly carry out testing to ensure suppliers comply with our product safety standards. In the past year, we have conducted more than 300,000 chemical safety tests with these agencies, adds Shein.
“When we become aware of any claim against our products, we immediately remove the product(s) from our website as a matter of precaution while we carry out our investigations. If non-compliance is confirmed, we will not hesitate to take appropriate follow-up action with the supplier of the said product. We can also confirm, based on the information available through the social media account of Greenpeace, that we have immediately removed the products mentioned pending investigation. Shein is dedicated to always providing consumers with safe and reliable products,” the statement concluded.